Peggy Lee was Born Norma Dolores Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, on May 26, 1920. At age four her mother died. Peggy’s father, a railroad station agent, remarried but later left home, leaving Peggy’s care entrusted to a stepmother who physically abused her. Peggy later memorialized this in the calypso number “One Beating a Day”, one of 22 songs she co-wrote for the autobiographical musical “Peg”, in which she made her Broadway debut in 1983 at the age of 62. As a youngster Peggy worked as a milkmaid, later turning to singing for money in her teens. While singing on a local radio station in Fargo, the program director there suggested she change her name to Peggy Lee. Peggy’s big break came when Benny Goodman hired her to sing with his band after hearing her perform. Peggy shot to stardom when she and Goodman cut the hit record “Why Don’t You Do Right?” and went out on her own to record such classics as “Fever”, “Lover”, “Golden Earrings”, “Big Spender” and “Is That All There Is?” – the latter winning her a Grammy Award in 1969. Peggy’s vocal style provided a distinctive imprint to countless swing tunes, ballads and big band numbers. She was considered the type of performer equally capable of interpreting a song as uniquely as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Bessie Smith. Her 1989 album, “Peggy Sings the Blues”, was a Grammy Award nominee. Peggy was a prolific songwriter and arranger and her 1990 “The Peggy Lee Songbook” contained four songs she wrote with guitarist John Chiodini. Peggy also wrote for jazz greats Duke Ellington, who called her “The Queen”, and Johnny Mercer, and composer Quincy Jones. Also in 1990 Peggy was awarded the coveted Pied Piper Award presented by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). She made her mark in Hollywood as an actress, winning an Academy Award nomination for her role as the hard-drinking singer in the jazz saga, Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955) and composed songs for the 1955 Walt Disney animated classic Lady and the Tramp (1955). The animated film featured a character named Peg, a broken-down old showgirl of a dog, whose provocative walk was based on the stage-prowl of Peggy Lee. Later she sued Disney and won a landmark legal judgment for a portion of the profits from the videocassette sale of the film. Peggy’s private life was racked by physical ailments, a near-fatal fall in 1976, diabetes and a stroke in 1998. She was married four times, all ending in divorce. She and first husband, guitarist Dave Barbour, had a daughter, Nicki, her only child. Peggy and Dave were on the verge of a reconciliation in 1965, but he died of a heart attack before the couple got back together. Peggy has left a vast legend of music that is constantly finding new generations of fans.
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